Year in review 2015: Books

Ohhh, this review isn’t so very late since it’s not quite a week into the new year, right?? So let me just get right to it.

Total books “read”: 30
– Percentage that were audiobooks: 33% (10/30)
– Percentage that were “Asian-American”: 13% (4/30)
– Percentage non-fiction: 47% (14/30)
– Percentage written by celebrities: 23% (7/30)


the-girl-on-the-train Emily-St-John-Mandel-Station-Eleven Chimamanda-Ngozi-Adichie-Americanah Donna-Tartt-The-Goldfinch Harper-Lee-Go-set-a-watchman Dave-Eggers-The-Circle Gabriel-Garcia-Marquez-Love-in-the-Time-of-Cholera Judy-Blume-Summer-sisters Margaret-Atwood-The-heart-goes-last TerryFallis-PolesApart Anthony-Doerr-All-the-Light-We-Cannot-See Alice-Sebold-The-lovely-bones

  • Paula Hawkins The Girl on the Train (Jan. 2015) – every recommended reading list in the beginning of the year had this novel on it and most of them likened it to Gone Girl. I learned about Gone Girl only when the movie was already released and contemplated reading the novel ahead of the movie but heard the movie was better. The US release of The Girl on the Train comes two years after the UK release so there’s a lot of buzz already. It took about 5% of the novel going slowly in the beginning before I got hooked and I read most of it over Easter weekend and just wanted to re-enter the world to finish it. It could be difficult and frustrating to read because I could hardly ever sympathize with the self-destruction of an alcoholic yet it’s still compelling. You’d have to read it to understand it.
  • Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (Sept. 2014) – I might have heard of this novel in the Inside the New York Times Book Review (ItNYTBR) podcast or any of the other reading lists I often encounter on Mashable and Brit & Co. In fact, I took a break from reading Americanah and listened to Station Eleven straight through, not relegating it just to when I was walking and running errands outside, that’s how compelling it was.
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah (Mar. 2014) – I can’t remember where I heard of this novel but it appealed to me as an epic saga and had audiobook potential for me. The audio file I obtained was over 17 hours long so until I got Mort Audio Player, I couldn’t listen to it. It meandered, it seemed, and was less saga than I expected. The race relations observations were interesting but when the romance was at the forefront near the end, I got irritated and didn’t overly care how it would turn out for the lovers.
  • Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (Oct. 2013) – Who hasn’t heard of this book? I was listening to a glowing review for All the Light We Cannot See (AtLWCS) on the ItNYTBR podcast and they asked the question if AtLWCS was this year’s Goldfinch, i.e., a Pulitzer Prize contender. I listened to the audiobook read by David Pittu after reading a short synopsis of the novel and determining it had audiobook potential for me. I wasn’t wholly captivated but kept at it. Often times, I would tell NPY, I’d be so frustrated. I must not be sympathetic to PTSD sufferers either who do not (cannot) get fully treated and act out destructively with alcohol, drugs and being anti-social. I just wanted him to stop sabotaging his life!!
  • Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman (July 2015) – I got my hands on this one hot off the presses because I felt this pressure to know everything about it to be able to understand all of the discussion and controversy – while I read and listened to the first chapter carefully when they were released on July 10, I didn’t pay as close attention to the rest of the book which was entertainingly read by Reese Witherspoon – I wasn’t as riled up as others, it seems.
  • Dave Eggers’ The Circle (Oct. 2013) – The weird and wonderful ways you find out about books: on a “Social Media” chat group on my work’s internal social media platform, someone mentioned this book and I found I wanted to read (listen to) it. I don’t think I finished Dave Eggers bestseller A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, also narrated by Dion Graham, but this subject sounded more promising for me and I would be correct.
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) – Who else has read Love… Cholera because it was so prominently featured (but not described) in the 2001 movie, Serendipity?? I’ve been intrigued for some time and finally decided to listen to the audiobook, which was fortunate. It was epicly long and all about one relationship – oof.
  • Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters (1999) – There was a lot of buzz about Judy Blume’s upcoming adult novel (which isn’t this one) which inspired me to look up her other adult novels and I found this one. Summer sisters = summer reading, in the last days of summer. It was a mini goal I set for myself, and accomplished, to finish this novel before summer ended. Accomplished, with 90 minutes to spare! It was an absorbing tale, fun to read.
  • Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last (Sept. 2015) – Hot off the presses, I got this book because it’s Atwood and I couldn’t wait to see the new world she had created. This story was quite a bit more humourous and ridiculous but it was fun to read and rings true.
  • Terry Fallis’ Poles Apart (Oct. 2015) – In Fallis’ fifth novel, he turns his attention to feminism. As usual, he released his book chapter by chapter as podcasts months ahead of the publication date and that is how I’ve consume his second through fourth novels. (His first novel won Canada Reads who released his podcasts on their website.) It was fun as usual and it’s fun to see Fallis keep up with the latest technology in his stories.
  • Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See (May 2014) – this novel indeed was the 2015 Goldfinch in that it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction bringing my total count of Pulitzer winners to four; this was a sweet story that draws really draws you into the frustrating and dark plights of Marie-Laure and Werner.
  • Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (Aug. 2002) – I finally read the synopsis of this novel and finally decided to read it (listen to it). It was chilling to listen to it and really touching the way Sebold envisioned heaven. I wish they had really caught the killer but it was satisfying enough.

Non-fiction (and non-Asian American)

what-i-know-for-sure not-that-kind-of-girl on-the-origin-of-religion will-it-waffle the-inconvenient-indian where-i-belong 51V+91mK1AL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ Jim-Gaffigan-Food-A-Love-Story Aziz-Ansari-Modern-romance Gail-MacColl-To-marry-an-English-lord Meghan-Daum-Selfish-Shallow-and-Self-Absorbed Cameron-Diaz-The-Body-Book Roxanne-Gay-Bad-feminist Mindy-Kaling-Why-not-me

  • Oprah Winfrey’s What I Know For Sure (Sept. 2014) – I was about to put this down before I had gotten 10% into the novel because the aphorisms and name-dropping was off-putting but it leveled out and you can take her high-functioning advice with a grain of salt and I started highlighting the advice that spoke to me most. At this point in time, it was “Give your best in every circumstance so that you have no reason to judge yourself and create guilt and shame.”
  • Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” (Sept. 2014) – This book seemed to be pushed so heavily in the holiday season and all I can say is that I got through this book; I don’t use the term often, but it seemed like a “hot mess”, a random journal loosely categorized into chapters. I applaud that she does tell it like she sees (saw) it and I could identify with her experiences. For memoir-writing research purposes, it was good but that’s it for me. FYI, I don’t watch her show, Girls.
  • David Allen Klinkenberg’s On The Origin of Religion (Dec. 2013) – I wanted to get everything I could out of this but I don’t think I did and I leave with more questions than I thought I would, which is a good thing. What does it mean globally? What other view or evidence is there as I feel like it’s not all addressed in this introductory text. What does it mean personally to me when I haven’t looked at Christianity this way before? What did it mean to the author who grew up deeply in the faith?
  • Daniel Shumski’s Will It Waffle? (Aug. 2014) – In December last year, I bought waffle plate attachments for my Cuisinart Griddler and tried one recipe in the accompanying recipe book once and didn’t know what to do next. We aren’t big waffles for brunch people. I much prefer crepes. But given all the other stuff you can waffle, I’ve been dusting my Cuisinart off more and bringing it out of the drawer it is stored in. “Reading” this book (all the preludes to recipes and the tips at the end) in one sitting makes you think it’s just a book telling you you can throw anything between waffle irons but I definitely did bookmark my favourite recipes to try and get use out of the waffle plates. ;D
  • Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian (Aug. 2013) – I heard about this book only during this year’s Canada Reads competition and wanted it to win. It came in third but I picked it up nonetheless. It’s the kind of “history book” that I can get into – more lightly written with some sarcasm and humour in the text. I naively thought there were similarities or parallels between the diaspora of my people who immigrated to North America and American/Native Indians who were here before Europeans arrived. Similarities – a stretch. Parallel – not at all. There were a lot of accounts of appallingly bad disputes and history just seems to repeat itself ad nauseum. Yet, it doesn’t end unhopefully.
  • Alan Doyle’s Where I Belong (Oct. 2014) – Once I saw this book was nominated for a Stephen Leacock Award for Humour, I finally decided to read it right away and finished it in three days; a feel-good memoir of the life of Great Big Sea’s frontman until his early twenties and exposes you to the hearty and utterly unique small town Newfoundland life.
  • Bob Schwartz’s I Run, Therefore I am–Nuts! (Aug. 2001) – I finally finished reading this after dragging it out for years, perhaps almost 10 years. It covers all of the geeky thoughts a delusional runner would have and brings in the humour with hyperbole. Apparently, Schwartz followed up his 2001 volume with a sequel in 2012, but I won’t read it as I have plenty of other books to read!
  • Jim Gaffigan’s Food: A Love Story (Oct. 2014) – I heard about this book when I was looking for the best new audiobooks. Gaffigan is not a comedian I am familiar with but despite his pretty typical male attitude towards food, i.e., more is better, vegetables are horrible and suspicion of seafood and some other ethnic foods, a 10-hour comedic take on food is still enjoyable given the topic. :)
  • Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance (June 2015) – I acted on this book pretty quickly and breezed through it – while it seems like the there are exciting possibilities in the dating world today (like Tinder which I never used since I have been out of “hunt mode” since 2006), I’m really so glad to be hearing about the trials and tribulations from afar! I haven’t seen Ansari’s shows so it was nice to read his comedic and intelligent voice without the other factors.
  • Gail McColl and Carol McD. Wallace’s To Marry an English Lord: Tales of Wealth and Marriage, Sex and Snobbery (Mar. 2012) – I think I had heard of this book already but Jhenifer Pabillano’s recommendation was the tipping point. This book inspired Downton Abbey and there is a blurb on the cover from producer Julian Fellowes that proves it. While I didn’t keep entirely straight all of the heiresses’ stories, the authors did go into great detail for several families’ histories including the parents of Winston Churchill. It was fun to be swept into a different age, to imagine the American and British worlds coming into contact when the novels I’ve read so far often treat them as if they existed mutually exclusively of each other.
  • Meghan Daum’s Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed (Mar. 2015) – Isn’t it a bit ironic (?) that I would read this book this year of all years? But it did come out this year only. At the same time, reading it when I’m not that distant from my “No Kids” attitude and then in incubation mode gave me unique perspective. I still classify myself as inherently an SSSA type but have gone with the flow and crossed to the other side.
  • Cameron Diaz’s The Body Book (Dec. 2013) – I can’t really say I knew what I was getting into when I decided to read this book but it was a good read. I feel like I knew a lot of the material she covered from diet (what we eat) to exercise to basic anatomical functions to wellbeing so it was a good refresher and it had the tone of a well-meaning and informed down-to-earth and sassy girlfriend – no wonder it is so highly rated!
  • Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist (Aug. 2014) – I think I wasn’t too aware of this collection of essays until I was looking through Jhenifer’s list. It’s the least I can do as a pretty bad (non-)feminist myself to read this book. I started out slow as I wasn’t as into the earlier topics but then she got into more pop culture topics (Tosh, Tyler Perry, The Help, 12 Years a Slave) and politics (reproductive freedom) – otherwise, admittedly, I finished several other books while making my way through this one!
  • Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? (Sept. 2015) – Hot off the presses, I got this audiobook. I sort of feel committed to continuing to read Kaling’s essays and for someone often heralded “refreshing” and “different”, I do agree with her often even if I don’t laugh overly while listening to this book.

Asian-American (or similar) fiction and non-fiction

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  • Ian Hamilton’s The Red Pole of Macau (Aug. 2012) – this is the fourth book in the Ava Lee series and the fourth one I’ve read including the prequel, which means I missed the novel immediately preceding this one and wonder exactly what happened although there was spill over and with May Ling reappearing and (since I don’t recall it from the second novel), Ava now has a girlfriend. More is at risk now if she gets into trouble as she forms more permanent connections and, at the end of this novel, she crosses one important moral boundary. I’m inclined to read the next one right away!
  • Ian Hamilton’s The Scottish Banker of Surabaya (Jan. 2013) – as promised above, I started the next Ava Lee novel right away … it’s marathon reading! This installment took so much more of a personal turn with Uncle’s health in question, a family wedding in the works and the implications to Ava’s non-standard family, and what transpired between the banker and Ava. Throughout this volume, Ava seems ready for transition, a new role and things are ever evolving and storylines are continuing from one installment to the next. But, I have to take a break from Ava and get some other reading done!
  • Ian Hamilton’s The Two Sisters Of Borneo (Jan. 2014) – I finished this at a point in the year when my life looked impossibly mundane so this was a good bit of escapist literature, easy reading as I knew it would be – Ava is traveling less in the latest instalments for a good reason and I could see the poetic justice which gave Ian Hamilton the opportunity to describe a Chinese wedding at the beginning of the novel and a Chinese funeral at the end.
  • Ian Hamilton’s The King of Shanghai (Dec. 2014) – slowly and surely, I have been catching up with the Ava Lee series such that finishing this instalment catches me up completely as the next instalment is not out until next year. Yay! This novel starts out in a different, more business oriented and Hamilton gets to contemporary issues like China’s involvement in “parallel manufacturing” (producing knock-offs). I wasn’t thrilled to see Triad activity in the novel but it is a different Triad from our traditional stereotype.

On this day..